Saturday, March 10, 2007

Krishna and the 60,000 Cocoa Beans

Despite Agra being a shit heap, it does have scattered within it, some quite nice buildings. Having seen the Taj in January, I was a little more composed this time, but Mum was blown away. Her first view was at sunset, glowing golden across the Yamuna river, and we raced across town to see it during the last moment of the dying sun. What is extraordinary, is that, no matter what expectations one has, no matter how many times one has seen pictures of it on Indian Restaurant walls or on boxes of joss sticks, it exceeds them all. We ended up going round separately, as we were trying to escape a phenomenally, irritating and patronisingly opinionated guide with an indifference to personal hygiene, whom the travel agency had sent without asking, so whilst he was sorting out the tickets we gave him the slip. Mum sobbed her way around clockwise, I meandered an anti-clockwise circuit and Dad raced up and back in half the time.

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Next day, luckily, we had a different guide, Ram, who was fab. He was smaller than a toothpick and laughed at my jokes. I liked him. We sat in the back chatting away, with his contributions emerging somewhere from underneath my left elbow. He expressed the desire to find a beautiful English wife. I told him I’d let him know if I found anyone suitable. Of course at the monuments he was hopeless, knowing very little about any of them, but he was great at getting us from A to B weaving through tiny backstreets, seemingly half the width of the car and half filled with cows, to get from beautiful building to beautiful building in record time.

Between sites, we talked about Hinduism and the many, many gods within it. In essence, Hinduism, like Greek mythology, is based on a series of folk tales, which describe the Godly and less than Godly activities of the Holy Trinity - Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preservor and Siva the Destroyer. These three Gods are not three different Gods, but manifestations of the highest God, the Supreme Iswara or Dynamic Brahmin. The other Gods worshipped in Hinduism are all manifestations of the Holy Trinity and their consorts, Saraswathi, Lakshmi & Parvati respectively. The great advantage of this is that instead of one God being all things to all people, believers can pick and chose the God they like or relate to the best.

Shiva is probably the most popular. He's the one most like a Bollywood action hero, unpredictable, violent (remember the story of how Ganesh got his elephant head), but with oomph and pizazz. His machissmo is perfectly exemplified by the following story. Vishnu and Brahma were arguing one day when a fiery pillar appeared between them. It was so long that they could see neither top nor bottom. Forgetting their argument, they became curious about the origins of this pillar. Lord Brahma, in the guise of a swan flew upwards and Lord Vishnu as a Boar buried through the ground. For thousands of miles they travelled, but neither reached the end. Brahma, sneakily, induced a flower he had passed to lie for him and say that he had indeed reached the top. Exhausted, they returned, defeated, whereapon Shiva appeared from the midst and revealed that the pillar was his phallus, showing how futile they were against his awesome power. I mean, really. Boys and their toys. However, it does give Hindus the excuse of worshipping Shiva's Lingam (phallic symbol) and explains why there are few temples to Brahma, which was a result of his lying about having reached the top.

Vishnu and his incarnations or Avatars, for example Rama and Krishna, are almost as popular as Shiva. Lord Krishma is the blue one, who's very cheeky and Rama is the one who defeated the Demon Ravanna who had stolen his wife and taken her to Sri Lanka.

I asked Ram who his favourite God was. He said Krishna. In reverential tones, he described how Krishna was like a Playboy; a prankster who played the flute so beautifully that women fell instantly in love with him (Ram was learning the flute). Once he saw some women swimming and he stole their clothes so they had to climb out of the water naked whilst he was watching from a tree. Instead of being furious at his childish behaviour, they gathered around and let him have his wicked way with all of them. With immense pride and not a little envy, Ram told me that Krishna, due to his irrisistable ways, had 60,000 Cocoa Beans. I was incensed, imagining that this was a derogative term for small brown women who lay about doing not much but awaiting the pleasure of their Lord and Master.

"You can't talk about women like that," I said, "and anyway, no English wife would tolerate being called a Cocoa Bean and certainly wouldn't allow you have have other Cocoa Beans on the side."

We wandered around the stunning baby Taj and the majestic Red Fort, with me tutting every now and then, muttering, "Cocoa Beans, indeed!" under my breath. Especially as we heard that having Cocoa Beans seemed to be a national pastime. In the Red Fort, we learnt that Shah Jehan's last days, as he wandered broken-hearted around his prison overlooking the Taj Mahal where the love of his life lay, was consoled by 5,000 Cocoa beans. Akbar, was also a big Cocoa Bean fan. He had three official wives, but he secreted a few Cocoa Beans in between times.

Three days later, we realised he had been trying to say concubines.


Anonymous said...

Hello Arabella,

googleing old friends and colleagues sometimes leads to the most interesting results.
We really enjoy reading about your adventures in India, best english travel literature.
It is so nice hearing or reading of you again, keep up the good work!
Dagmar, Markus and Lukas(6 months)

Heather said...


Heather said...

Hi Bel
- Amazing small world coincidence -
Went to a pal care conf in Shetland and met Mhoira Leng, currently working in Vellore in the field of pal care. Had she heard of you I asked. Well funny you should say that, she says, not only have I met her but just the other week I was at a meeting with Cairdeas (her charity) and RUHSA discussing pal care in the community and we were asking if Dr Onslow would like to become involved in some of our pal care project, but they said she was going home soon so that was that!!!!!!!!!!! Amazing. So also - if you want to extend your stay.... you could be being head hunted!! Ony hoo must go to work. PS - you should look up the cairdeas website - you would find it really interesting and great photos. Take care. Glad your parents are having such fun. xx heather and clive PS this week the downstairs kit of our house went up!!

Anonymous said...

the moral of this story is dont go swiming in Rams presance while he has his flute in close proximity.
its so nice to hear about your adventures write more soon xx

Arabella Onslow said...

Hi Dagmar! How amazing to see your name at the top of the comments. Even more delightful to see the addition of a clearly explanding family, congratulations! Apart from when I am in Vellore I am still at Barrow after all these years. Long long time since our house jobs. Am now GP, what about you? Send me an email on and tell me all!

Arabella Onslow said...

Hi Hev. tried to send an email, but have lost your address and it was returned. can you send it again. Ta! xx

Anonymous said...

Ah hah! I have been missing the comments opportunity so far as I couldnt remember my sername, or my password for that matter. But now, ah hah! 2 days before you come home, I have realised I can use the anonymous thingy, like all the other anonymous people, also having forgotten who they are too.
Anyway, just wanted to say that I founf the concubine coffee bean stry veerryy funny. x Maria I know who I am though)